Women's sports advocates and fans had much to watch, write about and reflect upon over the past year. The marking of the 40th anniversary of Title IX in June gave us a chance to remember the early days of organized scholastic competition for women and girls in our country and marvel at the progress made since the bill was signed into law. The extraordinary showing by female athletes at the 2012 London Olympics made headlines everywhere, as a record number of women performed -- some in record-breaking fashion -- on the world's greatest sports stage.
But after such an eventful stretch, it's fair to ask: What's next for women's sports? What can, or should, we aspire to now that the Title IX celebrations have died down? Will the National Women's Soccer League succeed where others have failed? Will emerging or entirely new sports take off? Will the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014 open even more doors? Will the progress of women's sports be about incremental steps, or is there a "next big thing" lurking on the horizon?
What will the next 40 years, the next Olympics, the next year, bring?
While it's hard to come up with precise answers to any of these questions, one thing is certain: Men will be involved. To be sure, women's sports will continue to feature (and benefit from) strong women, whether they're executives, qualified coaches or passionate fans of all ages. But if women's sports are to move forward in a meaningful way, the contributions of men as investors, executives, administrators, business and media partners, reporters, commentators and fans will also be critical.
There is already evidence to prove it. Birch Bayh helped bring Title IX into law; Jacques Rogge has overseen expanded opportunities for women to play at the Olympic level; Larry Scott did much to advance sponsor support of women's tennis while at the WTA; and the WNBA would never have seen the light of day without NBA commissioner David Stern. Iconic male coaches, such as Geno Auriemma (UConn hoops) and Anson Dorrance (North Carolina soccer), have created women's college dynasties, and fathers like Richard Williams and Peter Graf have jump-started the careers of some of women's sports greatest figures.
Fathers of all backgrounds are nurturing the sports careers of their daughters in ways that were unimaginable 40 years ago. Boys and men appear regularly in the stands and make up a sizeable percentage of the television audience for women's sporting events. Influential male executives in sports management, higher education, television and corporate America are quietly making decisions that are shaping opportunities for gifted women's athletes. Men are also determining, in large measure, the amount of media coverage women's sports get and, through hiring decisions, are influencing opportunities for female executives in sports leadership roles.
Because men's involvement in women's sports is so pronounced, any conversation about the future that doesn't include substantial male input is an incomplete exercise, which is why I want to continue to make men part of the discussion in a column on espnW.com called Man Up.
I plan to talk with prominent male sports executives so we can hear their ideas and perspectives about where women's sports are headed and what it will take to get them to the next level. You may also hear from a male voice or two from outside the sports world, so we can identify some of the perceptions casual male observers have about female athletes. (Come back Monday to check out my first interview, which will be with Golden State Warriors president and COO Rick Welts, one of the NBA's top executives who played a key role in the formation of the WNBA.)
My hope is these insights will offer new -- and candid -- thinking to women's sports leaders as they develop business strategies and will lead to practical solutions about what will be needed in order for women's sports to keep growing.
Behind every successful woman is herself (or so it's said); behind every successful women's sports venture are a least a few good men. Let's hear what some of them have to say.